Michiganians flock to Ohio to enjoy state's reopening

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Toledo — For the first time in months, Nawal Hamade enjoyed a salon pedicure Friday, although she had to leave Michigan to get it.

"It feels amazing," said Hamade of the pampering she received at Espres Nails and Spa salon in Toledo. "It feels like getting back to normal."

COVID-19 survivor Nawal Hamade of Temperance, Michigan, enjoys a pedicure at Espres Nails & Spa in Toledo, Ohio, by nail tech Hailey Willey on Friday, May 15, 2020.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Friday restarted parts of his state's economy, with selected businesses opening for the first time since he issued a stay-at-home order on March 22 in response to the coronavirus emergency. 

Michiganians like Hamade of Temperance flocked across the border for goods and services still not available in their own state. Dozens of vehicles bearing Michigan license plates were parked outside Toledo businesses that reopened Friday.

"Staying at home was getting depressing," said Hamade, a 38-year-old construction worker who is laid off because of the coronavirus. "You gain weight. You can't see your relatives. This is really nice."

The first phase of the Responsible RestartOhio program allowed the reopening of restaurants and bars with outdoor seating, hair and nail salons, barbershops, day spas, tanning salons, and tattoo and body piercing parlors, although oral and nose piercings remain prohibited.

The next phase of Ohio's plan kicks in May 21, when indoor restaurants, gyms and other businesses are scheduled to reopen.

Michigan resident Chelsea Watson is buying golf apparel at Dick's Sporting Goods in Toledo on Friday, May 15, 2020.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week extended her stay-at-home order until May 28 and unveiled a six-phase plan to re-engage the state's economy.

The third phase of the plan began Monday, when some auto suppliers and other manufacturers reopened. Construction, real estate and outdoor work are also allowed during the third phase.

Whitmer is under pressure by various groups to expedite the economic reboot. Restaurateurs are pushing for the governor to allow them to reopen for dining May 29, although Whitmer said bars and restaurants will remain closed, other than for food takeout, until the state reaches the fifth phase of her plan.

Residents of rural Michigan also are lobbying Whitmer to immediately allow businesses to reopen in their areas, many of which have had a relatively small number of coronavirus cases. Whitmer said statewide restrictions are needed because of increasing coronavirus cases in West Michigan, the lack of hospital capacity in rural areas and the possibility of a second wave.

For Michigan to reach the fifth phase, coronavirus cases and deaths would have to reach “low absolute rates per capita,” hospital capacity would need to be “very strong,” and “robust” testing and contact tracing would have to be in place, according to a chart released by the governor.

Critics say Whitmer's plan is too vague about the criteria for reopening; she responded by saying numeric benchmarks were intentionally omitted to allow for flexibility. She added, "there's no textbook-specific number that will tell you it is safe to reopen a certain sector of the economy."

So, in the meantime, Michiganians like Hamade will have to cross the border into Ohio to enjoy certain goods or services — including pedicures and hair dyes, which she also planned to have done at the salon Friday, "to get some of the gray out." 

COVID-19 survivor Nawal Hamade of Temperance, Michigan, enjoys a pedicure at EsprŽs Nail and Salon in Toledo, Ohio by nail tech Hailey Willey on Friday, May 15, 2020.

"I understand why Michigan isn't open yet," she said. "It's about safety."

Brian Betz of Monroe disagrees. He said he went shopping Friday at Toledo's Franklin Park Mall "just to get out of the house."

"It feels great, but I wish our governor would open up Michigan," said Betz, 40, who strolled through the mall with his 45-year-old girlfriend, Kathy Burgess.

The couple said they adhered to Whitmer's original stay-at-home order, which prohibited people from visiting each other.

"We live about an hour apart; she lives in northern Michigan, and we went seven weeks without seeing each other," Betz said.

"We did what we were supposed to do," Burgess said. "Now it's time for (Whitmer) to do her job and reopen the state."

Hilary Wilcox said she understands that "Michigan is a little crazier" than Ohio as far as being impacted by the COVID-19 virus. Ohio has reported 26,954 COVID cases, with 1,581 deaths. That compares to 50,079 cases and 4,825 deaths in Michigan as of Friday.

"I'm just excited Ohio is opening up, and that I live close enough to drive here," said Wilcox, 31, who made the 75-mile trip from her Wixom home to enjoy her version of normal — an afternoon of lunch and shopping with her friend.

"I'm meeting my best friend, who's from Sandusky (Ohio), I'm going to return a pair of jeans, and probably go to Chick-fil-A," she said.

Rylee Rasmussen, 19, and her 14-year-old sister, Ragean Rasmussen, of Carleton in Monroe County said their shopping excursion Friday was their first since Whitmer imposed the original stay-at-home order March 24.

"It feels weird," Rylee Rasmussen said as she and her sister strolled through the Dick's Sporting Goods store in Franklin Park Mall. "We're not really looking for anything; we just wanted to get out."

Like most of the store's customers, the sisters did not wear masks.

Hilary Wilcox of Wixom spent Friday afternoon shopping at Franklin Park Mall in Toledo.

"In Michigan, everyone wears a mask, but here nobody does," Rylee Rasmussen said.

Hamade wore a mask while getting her pedicure; it was required by the salon, which also took people's temperatures before allowing them to proceed beyond the front desk.

Hamade said she appreciates the precautions, because she contracted coronavirus in March.

"It knocked me out for about five weeks," she said. "It's horrible; it feels like you're having a heart attack. You can't breathe. You have a fever nonstop.

"I quit smoking last year. I'm glad I did or I probably wouldn't have made it."